Who Are The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence?
We are the Big Easy Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, Parish of the Muddy Waters: a 501(c)3 nonprofit dedicated to the education, support, and development of our greater community. While we operate in New Orleans, we are a chapter of the much larger Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, an international organization known for their charity work, community outreach, and advocacy surrounding LGBTQ+ issues. Since 1979, our mission has been to expiate stigmatic guilt and promulgate universal joy.
The Sisters began in San Francisco as an organized and highly-visible form of support for LGBT+ people, who were facing indifference from both church and state as they dealt with the HIV epidemic, hate crimes, and discrimination in the 80s and 90s. It was a Sister who sewed the first Pride Flag, and Sisters who pioneered attention-grabbing floats in parades that demanded equal rights and justice for queer people. Now, the Sisters have spread to more than 50 cities in the US and nearly 80 worldwide.
Membership in the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence (SPI) is considered a calling, but also must be earned through a series of commitments to the organization. We are a leading-edge order of queer nuns called to the vocation of Perpetual Indulgence, and we take both our vocation and our vows seriously. As Nuns, the roles we play in our community are important, challenging, and very rewarding.
In addition to spreading joy and public health awareness through our "bar ministry," we support and fundraise for other 501(c)3 organizations in the New Orleans area. Our collaborators and beneficiaries represent a dynamic cross-section of organizations and causes, such as:
Belle Reve's affordable housing for seniors
NO/AIDS' local HIV outreach
The Tipitina Foundation's support for local musicians and music education
St. Anna’s Episcopal Church Food Pantry and its efforts to feed over 800 families a month
The Butterfly Society's initiatives addressing domestic violence
BreakOUT! Youth's art programs for queer and questioning teenagers
Lower9's post-Katrina construction projects to rebuild the Ninth Ward and rehome displaced residents
NOAGE's advocacy for LGBTQ+ Elders
...and many others.
The Big Easy Sisters also partner with social organizations such as the Lords of Leather, the New Orleans Pups and Handlers, the Crescent City Rougaroux, the Renegade Bears, Skinz and Bonez, and Onyx. Our coalition strengthens the queer community of New Orleans.
While the SPI Mother House in San Francisco has been around for more than 40 years, the Big Easy Sisters came together in 2011 and achieved "fully professed" SPI status in 2013. We take pride in being a gender-inclusive house, and aspirants are open to choose which path -- Sister or Guard -- is the right fit for them. Everyone is welcome.
The Parish of the Muddy Waters is a growing house! We currently have 18 Fully Professed members and 8 members in the Aspirant, Postulant, and Novice phases of their journey to becoming Fully Professed Sisters and Guards of Perpetual Indulgence.
So You Think You Might Want to Join The Sisters?
We are looking for members who "feel the call" -- not only to Perpetual Indulgence, but to community service. Sisters don't pay any fees or dues to belong to our organization, but we do require commitment. Sisters are expected to attend our monthly business meetings as well as volunteer opportunities and manifestations in the community.
Who Can Be A Big Easy Sister of Perpetual Indulgence?
People from all walks of life are welcome regardless of age, race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, citizenship, income level, education, or ability. Some of our members have children, some are married, and some are single. While we follow the progression of Catholic nuns, our members are Jewish, Atheist, Catholic, Protestant, Pagan, Wiccan, Agnostic, Santero, Buddhist, and Nun of the Above. All we ask is a willing commitment to our values as a House (organization), and active participation in the work we do.
What do the Sisters Do?
We have a lot of fun when we go out in the community made up as Sisters and Guards (known as “manifesting”), but we also work hard behind the scenes on our various fundraising projects and volunteer efforts. We routinely engage in what we call Bar Ministry: manifesting at local bars, promoting safer-sex initiatives, and meeting with everyone and anyone. We listen to their stories, and we expiate stigmatic guilt and promulgate universal joy. Whether "in face" or not, we work hard to represent our organization in a positive manner, and to be utterly fabulous while we do it.
Sisters and Guards
Sisters are the "face" of the house and do the most interacting with the public. They typically dress in femme-leaning drag, including full-face makeup and house coronet.
Guards support the Sisters and help keep events running safely and smoothly. They typically dress in a more masculine style, including half-face make up, leather vest, and ball cap or "daddy" hat.
Steps to Becoming a Member of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence
Once one decides to join the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence (SPI), otherwise known as "receiving the call,” they decide whether they will pursue the Sister Path or the Guard Path. Either track involves several levels of membership: Aspirant, Postulant, Novice, and Fully Professed. The process can take as little as a year, though most members take a few months longer to reach Fully Professed Status.
Becoming an Aspirant is as easy as attending our monthly meeting and declaring an intention to join. The requirements for Aspirants are to attend a minimum of two meetings and to attend two manifestations (when the Sisters and Guards go out “in face”), while dressed in regular street clothes. After these requirements are met, the Fully Professed members have a conversation with the Aspirant and vote whether to elevate the Aspirant to Postulant.
Once one becomes a Postulant, one asks a Fully Professed member to become one’s Big Sister or Big Brother. This person will mentor the Postulant through their journey to becoming a Fully Professed Sister or Guard. Postulants are allowed to manifest with the other members of the House when they are manifesting (going out dressed as Sisters and Guards, aka, “in face”). Postulants are required to wear a white shirt/blouse and black skirt/trousers. They wear a sailor cap, with a white veil attached to it for Postulant Sisters, and a plain sailor cap for Postulant Guards. There are certain strictures on the makeup Postulants wear, which they will learn from their Big Sister/Brother. Postulants are not allowed to speak to people outside the House about the House while in face, and if they are so approached, are expected to call a Fully Professed over to answer any questions. While in the Postulant role, they are expected to learn the rules of manifesting, how to behave while manifesting, and the Sistory (history of the Order and the House). This is done under the guidance of the Postulant’s Big Sister/Brother. Postulancy lasts a minimum of three months. Elevation occurs after the Postulant has a conversation with the Fully Professed and demonstrates a knowledge of the Sistory and about the House.
After elevation to Novice, the responsibilities of a junior member increase. Allowed now to speak with non-members while out in face, they are expected to be functioning members of the House, though they still do not have a vote. The most important responsibility of a Novice is to design a novice project. The novice project must benefit the House or the community in some way. While it is the responsibility of the Novice to design and execute a successful project, the Big Sister/Brother is there to help, as well as other members of the House. No one walks the path alone, and there are all sorts of manner of support in this endeavor. Novices dress as they wish, differentiated from Fully Professed by wearing a white veil (Sisters), or a white baseball cap (Guards). During this time they still work with their Big Sister/Brother.
Upon becoming a Fully Professed member of the House, one becomes a voting member, and eligible for running for the Board (Abbess, Mistress of Novices, Mistress of Coin, Mistress of Quill, Mistress of Protocol). Fully Professed dress and makeup as they like, and wear a black coronet and veil of any color. Fully Professed Guards wear a black leather cap. The Fully Professed mentor junior members, and represent the House to the Outside World. They continue to participate in fund raisers, and some have turned their novice projects into annual or bi-monthly events. They engage in education and out-reach to the larger community, work to be present for people, and to participate in Bar Ministry.
Postulant Guard Phillip McCann
Postulant Sister Mila Chokabitch-Proper
Novice Sister Onya Neeze
Novice Guard Buddha Bear
Sister Gloree Bea Divine
Guard Rusty Hymen
Sister Diarreah en Franck
Sister or Guard? Which is Best for Me?
Deciding whether to be a Sister or a Guard is a personal choice. While the roles are somewhat different , in our House Sisters and Guards are co-equal. Sisters are more likely to go out and meet people, be fabulous, and energize the community. Who doesn't want to have their picture taken with a Sister who outshines any glamour goddess of 1930's Hollywood? But it isn't all fabulousness and modeling for the camera. Sisters work hard to help raise funds for charitable organizations and educate the community. And they are always there to lend a willing ear
Guards protect the members of the House. Their role is to make sure the group stays together while wandering the French Quarter, to keep people from harassing the Sisters, to set up and break down beer busts, and to make sure everyone is safe while manifesting in public.
There are Sisters who originally joined with the intention of being a Guard, and at least one Guard who joined with the intention of being a Sister. A very general rule of thumb, which has its exceptions, is that Sisters tend to be extroverts, and Guards tend to be introverts. During the Aspirant phase, one can weigh the pros and cons of each role within the House, and most members know before they elevate to Postulancy which role is suited for them. It should be noted that the Big Easy Sisters are a House that is Bi-Sororical, and that members can be both Sister and Guard, and at least two people have exercised that option.